(continued…) In the eighth and ninth chapters of II Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is making an appeal for an offering. When Paul talks about the Gospel, he talks about the Gospel, and doesn’t muddy the water with side issues. But when Paul talks about money, he talks about money, and he puts the pressure on in every way he knows how for these two chapters. Such talk about money is not out of place in the Bible. In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus talks about money six times as much as he talks about prayer; and Jesus never even took an offering. But Jesus knew how the heart can be filled with the desire for money to the point that there is no more room for God, and then all is lost.
Paul here is also talking about money, and he is taking an offering for the Lord’s work. In II Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly, and not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” That is the theme of the entire two chapters, and that is how we support the church to this day. Christian stewardship does not mean that people are compelled to give, but that they give willingly. We don’t send out monthly bills, and we don’t have dues here. We have offerings, freely given offerings. Nor does God ask that you give reluctantly. If you don’t want to give it, God doesn’t want it. But God wants your offerings to be cheerfully given, out of gratitude for all what God has given you— which is, of course, everything you have. Most of all, God has given his Son, Jesus Christ, of whom Paul spoke in the previous chapter, saying “For you have known the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, for our sake, he became poor,” even dying on the cross for you. Anyone who knows Jesus and believes in what Jesus has done for them, will be a cheerful giver.
There are many ways we can do this. It is not always as direct and obvious as giving money to feed a hungry and crying child that is right ahead of you, as in the story of my Aunt Annie. It is usually more indirect and less dramatic; like donations to our Food Shelf or the envelopes you put in the offering plate each week. And, it does not always have to be through the church. Some of you sponsor a child in a third world country. When you go Christmas shopping and see people ringing bells by red buckets, you have the opportunity to give to the work of the Salvation Army. And we can see all around us what our offerings do right here to keep our congregation alive with its many opportunities. There are many ways to be generous.
We can feel good about these things, and feeling good about what our offerings do contributes to our ability to give cheerfully. It is good therefore to remind ourselves once in a while about what it is that our offerings all do.
In Luke 21 (see below) there is the old, familiar story of the widow’s offering. It is a simple little story that has two important lessons, and leaves us with one big question. I’ll start with the question. Was it really a good idea for that poor woman to put in all she had to live on? What would she do now? I don’t know. But let’s not always spend all our time worrying about what we don’t understand in the Bible. In this case, let’s move on to the two things in the story that are easy to understand. First of all, it is clear, Jesus was watching what was being put in the offering. Jesus is watching what you do with you money. Secondly, Jesus was pleased with that poor widow’s offering. May we make it our goal to please Jesus with our offering, which is a small return that we make on the abundance that we have been given.
Luke 21:1-4 — As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
II Corinthians 9:7-8 — Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Deuteronomy 8:10-14…17-18a — When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… You may say to yourself,“My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.
We give thee but thine own,
whate’er the gift may be;
all that we have is thine alone,
a trust, O Lord, from thee.
May we thy bounties thus
as stewards true receive,
and gladly, as thou blessest us,
to thee our first-fruits give.
To comfort and to bless,
to find a balm for woe,
to tend the lonely in distress,
is angels’ work below.
The captive to release,
to God the lost to bring,
to teach the way of life and peace –
it is a Christ-like thing.
And we believe thy Word,
though dim our faith may be;
whate’er for thine we do, O Lord,
we do it unto thee.
–William W. How, Bishop of Bedford (London) (1823-1897)